Why go dairy-free?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving great health; although the multibillion-dollar diet industry may want you thinking otherwise. We are all uniquely built to handle different foods in different amounts, and we all function best with different forms of physical activity. Embracing this concept of bio-individuality is key to figuring out not only which foods do work for our bodies, but also which foods don’t work for us.
Think about the last time you had dairy, whether it was Greek yogurt, ice cream, or milk in your coffee.
Did you experience:
- Stomach pain or cramping
Do you eat dairy products regularly? If so, do you suffer from:
- Chronic congestion
- Chronic gas and bloating
- Chronic fatigue and sluggishness
- Brain fog
If you feel or experience any of the above, dairy may be the culprit! Cutting out dairy can seem daunting at first, but there are many dairy substitutes available to make the process easier. Many people who ditch dairy end up noticing the impacts quickly, while for some it may take more time, depending on how much dairy products were in the diet and how the body was affected by regular dairy consumption.
The benefits of going dairy-free
In the spirit of honoring bio-individuality, there are many benefits of going dairy-free that will depend on the person! Here are ten benefits of eliminating dairy from your diet:
1. Lose weight.
Eliminating dairy may aid in weight loss as many dairy products we know and love contain high amounts of sugar and saturated fat (think: ice cream, cheese, and flavored yogurts). Research has demonstrated that excess sugar consumption can contribute to an increased risk of metabolic syndrome and obesity. While eating fat is an important component of maintaining proper health, the type of fat is equally important and saturated fat intake should be limited due its contribution to inflammation in the body. By removing dairy products from your diet, you may experience weight loss due to an overall reduction in sugar and saturated fat intake.
2. Reduce exposure to antibiotics and hormones.
Conventional dairy products may contain residual amounts of antibiotics, used to keep cows free from infection, and hormones, used to ensure cows are able to produce enough milk. Often, antibiotics are used therapeutically, which means the cow isn’t acutely sick, but antibiotics are given as a preventive measure to ensure the health of the entire herd. Unfortunately, this can cause antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can make their way into our food system.
rGBH, or recombinant bovine growth hormone, is the most commonly used hormone to increase milk production. Unfortunately, the use of rGBH can lead to an increased use of antibiotics, leading to increased residue found in dairy products. Because of consumer outcry over the use of antibiotics and hormones, most dairy farms in the United States have eliminated their use and label their products accordingly, even though there is no requirement to do so.
3. Clear skin.
Acne can have many causes, but some people find their acne clears up without dairy. As mentioned above, hormones found in milk can possibly contribute to an increased prevalence of acne, especially in women who experience hormone fluctuations throughout their cycle. Dairy products also contain sugar, which can contribute to the development of acne.
Dairy may not be the only reason you experience acne, so if it doesn’t improve with the elimination of dairy products, you may want to experiment with removing other food groups, commonly done through an elimination diet.
4. Improve digestion issues.
Digestion or GI issues related to dairy consumption is often due to lactose intolerance, the inability to digest lactose (cow’s milk sugar) because of the lack of the enzyme lactase in the intestinal tract. In fact, approximately 70% of the global population is deficient in lactase! When someone who is lactose intolerant eats lactose, their intestines aren’t able to properly digest and assimilate it, resulting in gas and bloating. Upon removing dairy products from the diet, this is often one of the first noticeable effects.
5. Reduce inflammation.
Having a sensitivity or allergy to milk can contribute to inflammation in the gut and in the body. An allergy to milk occurs when the body attacks casein, the protein found in dairy products, igniting an immune system response, aka inflammation. For someone with a lactose intolerance, however, there’s no conclusive evidence that inflammation occurs when they eat lactose, even though the person can become very uncomfortable. Overall, keeping the gut healthy to reduce chronic inflammation is important, and eliminating dairy may be one step toward improving one’s gut health.
For people with no aversions to dairy products, dairy can actually be anti-inflammatory, especially if consuming fermented dairy, such as kefir and yogurt, full of probiotics to keep the gut microbiome healthy.
6. Crowd out certain foods.
Contrary to popular belief, you can get your daily requirement for calcium without consuming dairy. By removing dairy products from your diet, you’ll make more room for foods that have not only calcium but other important vitamins and minerals you may be missing. IIN calls this “crowding out,” the process of eating more foods that truly nourish you, thus leaving less room for the foods that don’t.
Great nondairy sources of calcium include broccoli; dark, leafy greens; sardines; beans; tofu; and fruits such as papaya, dried figs, and oranges. You’ll also end up crowding out foods high in sugar and saturated fat, improving your diet overall.
7. Improve bone health.
There’s no question that calcium is required for the health of our bones, but it’s not necessary to get calcium from dairy sources. The amount of calcium we need to prevent osteoporosis, a disease in which bones become weak and brittle, however, is up for debate. Research has shown that increasing calcium intake, whether from dairy or nondairy sources, above what is recommended did not correspond to increased protection against osteoporosis and consequent fractures.
More research is needed to determine how much calcium is protective, but there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that in addition to calcium, there are other factors that contribute to healthier bones, such as adequate consumption of vitamins D and K and regular physical activity (specifically, weight-bearing exercise).
8. Reduce environmental impact.
Dairy production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Not only does it take a lot of natural resources to raise cows, but the methane released from the cow’s digestive system produces a lot of greenhouse gases. Furthermore, the manure produced from cow’s eliminated products releases nitrous oxide, “a climate-warming pollutant 298 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.”
If you’re looking to reduce your carbon footprint, you have a choice when it comes to the food you eat! Check out these ten foods that are most common for emitting greenhouse gases.
9. Balance hormones.
Dairy products naturally contain hormones, such as estrogen, but there’s likely small amounts of hormones found in dairy products that are able to be absorbed by our bodies. There are some studies that link the presence of the growth hormone IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) in dairy products to an increased risk of cancer, but “correlation is not causation,” meaning that consuming dairy products that have IGF-1 will not cause cancer.
However, if you’re eating many servings of dairy a day, especially dairy products that contain high amounts of sugar, your blood sugar can be affected. Insulin, the hormone that controls your blood sugar, is vulnerable to fluctuations that can eventually lead to insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes.
10. Improve symptoms of brain fog.
The research is inconclusive on an association between dairy intake and psychological effects, such as brain fog, anxiety, and depression, but if you’re sensitive to dairy, your body is creating an inflammatory response that can manifest in a variety of ways, both physically and emotionally. And because we’re all bio-individuals, it’s important to remember that while you may experience a certain physical or emotional symptom after eating a certain food, it may not necessarily happen for others.
The best dairy substitutes
Now that you’re well-versed in the many health benefits of cutting out dairy, let’s explore the best dairy substitutes to help you ditch dairy for good!
1. Plant-based milks
The possibilities are endless these days when it comes to finding plant-based dairy alternatives:
- Almond milk
- Cashew milk
- Coconut milk
- Hazelnut milk
- Hemp milk
- Macadamia nut milk
- Oat milk
- Pea milk
- Soy milk
When it comes to choosing the milk alternative that’s right for you, be sure to look at the label. Many plant-based milk products contain added sugar as well as thickening agents, such as carrageenan, which can cause gut irritation and inflammation. Better yet, make your own nut milks at home!
2. Lactose-free (or lactose-reduced) products
For those with a lactose intolerance, they might feel a sigh of relief when they learn they can simply reduce the lactose in their diet by switching to dairy products that have less lactose! These include:
- Products made with goat’s milk
- Products made with sheep’s milk
- Aged cheeses, such as Parmesan and cheddar
- Products with added lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose)
3. Dairy-free cooking and baking
Luckily, there are many substitutes for butter:
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Ghee (which is actually clarified butter, meaning the milk portion was removed)
- Olive oil
Which plant-based, lactose-free-, or dairy-free products are best? Well, the ones you enjoy the most! If you have to cut out a food group you really love, it’s important to find substitutes that make the process easier. After a while, you can experiment with different types of dairy substitutes, using a variety of them in your diet:
- Use oat milk to make an oat milk latte at home.
- Add almond or hemp milk to your green smoothies.
- Whip up vegetable curries with coconut milk.
- Top homemade pizza with goat cheese.
- Sauté dark, leafy greens in ghee or olive oil.
- Replace the butter in your favorite banana bread recipe with coconut oil.
How long you cut dairy products out of your diet for is also completely up to you. If you find yourself feeling better after cutting dairy, you may choose to leave it out of your diet for good. There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to finding the diet and lifestyle that work best for you, so learn to listen to your gut and follow what it’s telling you. IIN’s Health Coach Training Program will help you hone those very skills, transforming your health from the inside out and learning how to teach others to achieve the same.